August 18, 2008, Wurtsboro, NY – Jimmy and Lisa Ryan were driving to White Lake when they saw a man dressed in full Army fatigues, a pole flying the American flag strapped to his back, walking down Route 209.
Curious, the Ryans pulled over and asked Damion Maynard why he was dressed for war.
“I’m walking a mile for every American soldier who’s been killed in Iraq,” Maynard said.
That’s more than 4,000 miles. Maynard, 33, of Pocatello, Idaho, began walking in December 2006 and, with the exception of two short breaks, he’s been going ever since. He averages 20 miles each day, and he’s 200 miles away from his goal.
The voyage impressed Jimmy Ryan, a Wurtsboro resident and Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. So, like hundreds of other Americans along Maynard’s journey, Ryan bought the man lunch.
While he ate a French dip sandwich at Danny’s, Maynard couldn’t pinpoint his motivation. He’s never been in the military, Maynard said, calling himself a patriot who conjured the idea one night while laying in bed.
“I just wanted to do something special for each and every person who died for this country,” he said.
His journey began at his mother’s house in Carson City, Nev., and has taken him across the Great Plains, through the Bible belt and into the Catskills. He’s slept in the woods, at hotels that offered him free rooms, and in the homes of people who find his trip inspiring. For the record, Maynard’s wife thinks he’s crazy to leave his carpentry job, but she’s supportive.
Police officers have given Maynard patches from their departments. Military families have given him pins that cover his camouflage hat.
“I’m must be the most decorated civilian in America,” he said.
People from Warsaw, Ind., Erie, Pa., and hundreds of other small towns have signed a sketch book he’s carrying. Even James Doyle Jr., the governor of Wisconsin, signed it.
After the owner of Danny’s picked up his tab, Maynard packed his few belongings and set out toward Route 17. His next destination is Ground Zero, and then Washington, D.C., where he hopes to meet with President Bush.
That sounds improbable, but Maynard is serious.
“See, I’ve got the White House number right here,” he said, flipping open a cell phone to show the telephone listing.
As he left Wurtsboro, a place he never knew existed until Saturday, the townspeople wished him safe travels.
“God bless him,” Wurtsboro resident Luke Diack said. “Off he goes, for whatever reason.”